William R. Fontenot, sfo
217 St. Fidelis Street
Carencro, Louisiana 70520
Predictably, contemporary environmental issues have become nothing more than political/economic/social footballs; tossed back and forth by attorneys, lobbies, and lawmakers – much in the same way that slavery/civil rights, women’s suffrage, abortion, and other ethics-related issues were in the past. The reason that environmental issues cannot be successfully resolved in political, economic, and social arenas is because environmental issues are first and foremost moral issues; and must first be resolved within moral arenas (i.e. churches) before they are presented for discussion in other arenas. Perhaps the best example of successfully following this protocol lies within the civil rights issue: how long was it batted around political, economic, and social agendas before Martin Luther King brought it into the churches? And after he brought it into the churches, how long did it take for the issue to be resolved? Bottom line: Issues which require pulling society out of its perceived comfort zone in order to be resolved are most likely to be “rationalized away,” or at least minimized unless and until these issues are identified as sinful by that society’s moral authorities.
Genesis 2:15-17: “The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden as its gardener, to tend and care for it. But the Lord God gave the man this warning: You may eat any fruit in the garden except fruit from the Tree of Knowledge – for its fruit will open your eyes and make you aware of right and wrong, good and bad. If you eat its fruit, you will be doomed to die.”
So, the garden of humankind has now been superimposed over God’s Garden of Eden. Man’s creation has taken precedence over God’s creation - and at what cost? Knowing this story from its beginning, should we humans be so surprised and shocked to find that our creation, no matter how shiny and wonderful they may seem in comparison to God’s, are vastly inferior to His?
We are now paying the price for doing things our way… “balloon payment” style. We set out to first conquer the land, then the sea, then illness and disease “problems,” then transportation “problems,” then communications “problems,” etc. etc. etc. in the process, we are destroying our one and only life support system; for this is what “Nature” truly is. “Nature” is not some random collection of plants, animals, mountains, streams, and oceans. “Nature” is the sole provider of our food, water, and oxygen – among other things.
Compare our planet to a spaceship. Suppose you were piloting this spaceship. Suppose that some of the crew members decided that they needed parts of your ship’s life support system in order to improve their standard of living aboard the craft. Suppose that your life support system began to experience problems in delivering and recycling your food, water, and oxygen as a result. What would you do?
Those of us who are actively awaiting the Lord’s return might be tempted to blow our earthly responsibilities off. After all, since we’ve already made such a huge mess in so many realms, why not simply wait for Jesus to come back and make everything right? Right? Wrong! Remember Jesus’ story of “the sheep and the goats”? (Matthew 25:31-46).
As Christians, our duty is to 1) pray without ceasing (I Thes 5:17), and 2) do good (Rom 2:7 & 10) regardless of the circumstances. Note that both of these commands require action. Neither can be accomplished by sitting around wringing one’s hands, or by listening to/reading stories about the prayers/good actions of others. A life in the Kingdom of God is available to us now (I Cor 4:20; Rom 14:17), if we will only act. In fact, it is our duty to become examples – ambassadors of the Kingdom of God – to others.
Get up off the couch and go outside into God’s world. Apologize to Him for your disrespect. Ask Him to help you to take on and accomplish your environmental responsibilities. You’ll find that such a task will involve some pain and suffering (i.e. your time, your talent, your money), but oh what love, joy, and peace await! Instead of sinking further into despair and neurosis over the condition of the world, you’ll find yourself sleeping like a baby at night. Go ahead! Trade in your angst and fear about the future for a little good, old-fashioned sweat, a sore muscle or two, and a lighter pocketbook. Like St. Francis of Assisi sad, “If you want to change the world, change yourself!”
Blairlock, E.M. 1985. The Little Flowers of St. Francis. Servant Books, P.O. Box 8617, Ann Arbor, MI 48107.
Bodo, Murray. 1984. The Way of St. Francis. Image Books, Doubleday & Co.
Leopold, Aldo. 1986. A Sand County Almanac. Ballatine Books (also published in 1966 by Oxford University Press)
Stein, Sara. 1993. Noah’s Garden. Houghton Mifflin Co.
Timmermans, Felix. 1955. The Perfect Joy of St. Francis. Image Books, Doubleday & Co.
By Aldo Leopold, from A Sand County Almanac:
“There is, as yet, no sense of pride in the husbandry of wild plants and animals; no sense of shame in the proprietorship of a sick landscape.”
“No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions. The proof that [wildlife] conservation has not yet touched these foundations of conduct lies in the fact that philosophy and religion have not yet heard of it.”
“The outstanding scientific discovery of the twentieth century is not television, or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little is known about it. The last word is ignorance is the person who says of an animal or plant: ‘What good is it?’ If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not.”
By Sara Stein, from Noah’s Garden:
“More insidious and alarming was the absence of many creatures I could recall from childhood that at some unnoticed time during the intervening years had dwindled to rarity or disappeared, not only from this site, but from the very countryside. I recalled species I had once known that now were missing: orioles, meadowlarks, bluebirds, box turtles, walking sticks, praying mantises, monarch butterflies, luna moths, red-spotted salamanders, green grass snakes, little brown bats, weasels, and many more. That I could compile so long a list from memories going back no more than forty years was startling. What if I hadn’t known the rural countryside before development transformed it? How does one miss what one has never known? What longing, then would drive one to repair the damage?”
“Already our understanding of wildlife is based mostly on such presentations as National Geographic Specials; as a result we are likely to have more sympathy for rhinoceroses in Africa than for toads in our own doorstep. One would almost think from watching television that Nature resides only in the wilderness, that to see it we must turn to that station, subscribe to Natural History, or take an ecotour.”
“This is not someone else’s problem. We - you and I and everyone who has a yard of any size - own a big chunk of this country.”
I’m a not preacher. So, when Mary called me and asked if I would come to speak at a cathedral, I became somewhat intimidated. At the same time, however, my desire to come and convey some of the things which I’ve learned about the environment and spirituality forced me to accept this invitation. The main thing that I’ve learned as a Christian is to rely upon God for al things – from the smallest to the biggest.
“Father God,” says I, “what do You want me to tell these folks?”
“Didn’t you say that today you needed to go out and weed blackberry vines out of your prairie garden?” said He.
Of course, He was right. Only I wasn’t at all looking forward to that chore. The older I get, the worse my back, shoulders, hamstrings, and knees feel. So, dutifully, I went out and started weeding.
“That’s right, son. You work. I’ll talk. Say, you ever notice how weeding’s a lot like life?”
“Huh??” (My back and hamstrings were already killing me.)
“Sure! Remember the quote that you’re so fond of: ‘90% of a successful career consists of just showing up for work.’?”
“So here you are, kid! You’ve got your gloves on, you’re all bent over. Only 10% left to go!”
Somehow, that little message made me feel a little better. But God didn’t stop there. He knew that I wasn’t going to finish with the weeding for quite a while. In fact, it would take three weekend mornings – a total of ten hours - to finish. During those ten hours, lesson after lesson steamed through my head. But the first lesson – that one about just showing up – really set the tone. One week later, during my second 3-hour weeding session, I noticed how the pain in my body wasn’t near as bad as it had been during the first session. The third session would be nearly pain free. Aha! The more you give, the better it gets.
With the passing of each weeding session, the lessons would become increasingly profound:
Me: Wow. Weeding’s a breeze when you do it right after a rain.
God: The best time to set about reforming your life is right after times of sorrow and/or times of cleansing.
Me: You know, I think I’m finally getting used to being all bent over like this.
God: Reforming your life is best approached from a position of humility. Hey. Bend over a little more, there; you just missed one!
Me: The bigger the vine, the easier it is to pull up!
God: The more obvious sins are a cinch to uproot.
Ah, but this last one was a biggie. Of course God was correct (when is He not?). It’s relatively easy to stop killing, stealing, or adulterating; but how easy is it to stop judging, gossiping, or lusting? Hmm. But then I noticed that when I was bent way WAY over, following a big vine to its root, soon enough I’d uncover lots of tiny, threadlike vines radiating out from the base of the big vine. These required much more patience – first to grasp, and then to pull. These required a more delicate and persistent pulling pressure, else they’d snap off before their roots came up. Unh-huh. But come up they did!
Upon pulling up these smaller vines, I began to notice even smaller ones hidden deeper in the duff and leaf litter which I uncovered as I pulled the next-larger ones. So here were impatience, unforgiveness, rudeness, curtness, and the like. These, of course, required even more patience and endurance to eradicate. In time, you come to realize that you’re not going to get each and every vine out by its root. Some of them snap off first. So it’s a process, you see. You resign yourself to the fact that you’ll get ‘em next time; and you go on. You endure. And the longer you stay at it, the easier it becomes. It becomes easier because you’re working at it. Practice makes perfect. After a while, you’re actually liking it!
This was all working out so well that I finally had to say to God, “Well, this is all so wonderful. I’ve learned so much – so much more than if I had paid someone else to do it! But tell me: How really do these little lessons help me to root out my sins? After all, I’m pulling up blackberry vines, here, not sins. How really do I weed out my sins?”
“You sin by choice,” He said. “Each time you’re confronted with a decision – even the little ones like making a left turn in your car – you have the opportunity to do either good or evil. Do good, and you’ve pulled a weed. Choosing to do good usually involves suffering; that is, work, patience, endurance – sometimes even ridicule or discord of various sorts. But I tell you what: You just show up for work, son, and I’ll show you how to pull your weeds!”